2007:LDS "Gods" as Monarchic Monotheism: Blake Ostler

LDS “Gods” as Monarchic Monotheism
Blake Oster’s writings explain that what some theologians take for multiple “Gods” in LDS thought are Monotheistic, in a form which he calls “Monarchic Monotheism”. It is made up of a “council of the gods”, all of whom are clearly completely subordinate to the Most-High God.

He began teaching this in Volume one of his “Exploring Mormon Thought”, which has been used in graduate philosophy courses at BYU for some years.

Love and Thanks,
Steve St. Clair

Here is the section on this subject:


Subordinate “Gods”
The very term “God” has seemed to include in it the notions of supremacy and perfection. Nevertheless, “God” or “Gods” is found in the Hebrew scriptures referring to beings that are not supreme. For example, there are divinities who are inferior or subordinate or divinities only by per­mission of the head God. Such divinities were felt to have religious power and authority, but only by participation or permission from the higher God. In the Hebrew scripture, a member of El’s court, angels and possibly gods of foreign nations are called gods in this sense. The various mediat­ing principles and half-personified divine attributes found in the Hebrew writings such as debar or the divine word or Wisdom, would belong to this class. In the New Testament, “the Word,” and “the Mediator,” are also used in this sense in the Epistles of Paul and the Gospel of John. In such passages, Christ is viewed as a subordinate being even though he is consid­ered as divine and meriting worship.However, Mormons refer to subordinate “gods” in two senses pri­marily. First, Mormons speak of the gods in the “council of the gods before the world was.” Thus, the Father is referred to as ruling in “the council of Eternal God of all other gods” (D&C 121:32); and the book of Abraham states that “the gods organized and formed the heaven and the earth” (Abraham 4:1). This use of the word “gods” is essentially equiva­lent to the Old Testament usage that refers to Yahweh or to Yahweh Elohim planning with and ruling over a council of gods who are subordinate to him. As Hans-Joachim Kraus observed:

In the heavenly world Yahweh, enthroned as God and king, is sur- rounded by powers who honor, praise and serve him. Israel borrowed from the Canaanite-Syrian world the well-attested concept of a pan- theon of gods and godlike beings who surround the supreme God, the ruler and monarch. In Psalm 29:1-2 the bene elohim (“sons of God”) give honor to Yahweh. They are subordinate heavenly beings stripped of theirpower, who are totally dependent on Yahweh and no longer possess any independent divine nature. In Job and the Psalter, powers of this sort are called bene elohim, elim, or qedushim (“sons of God,” “gods,” and “holy •ones,” Job I:6ff; Ps. 58:1; • 8:5; 86:8). But Yahweh alone is the highest God CElyon) and king. . . . In Psalm 82 we have a clear example of the idea of a “council of gods.”. . . “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holdsjudgment:’ The “high- est god” is the judge. The gods (elohim) are his attendants. They are wit- nesses in the forum which Yahweh rules alone, and in which he possesses judicial authority. We might term the cheduth-el “Yahweh’s heavenly court.” All of the gods and powers of the people are in his service.

In later volumes of his multi-volume work, Blake Ostler will demonstrate conclusively that the beliefs of First-Temple Judaism (the Old Testament period), Second-Temple Judaism, the New Testament period, and early Christianity continue to clearly describe God or the Godhead in identical terms.

Here is an excerpt from his chapter on Second Temple Judaism:


Monotheism and the Hierarchy of Divine Beings in Second Temple Judaism
The view that there was a hierarchy of divine beings, with the one God as the Most High accompanied by a principal divine agent second only in authority to God surrounded by a court of divine beings who serve in the Holy of Holies in the highest heaven was universal in Second Temple Judaism – the Judaism that gave rise to Christianity. The council of gods continued in this form throughout the period that gave rise to Christianity. Monotheism was not threatened by the view that there are numerous divine beings and even those who are called “gods” because it was understood that the Most High was the one God. Moreover, it was commonly believed that the divine glory could be shared by exalted humans. Indeed, it was a very common belief that humans could ascend to the throne of God and be transformed glory for glory into the same divine status as the heavenly beings by participating in the rites of washing, anointing and investiture preparatory to officiating as a priest and king in the heavenly Temple where God resides.

15.1 Jewish Views of the Hierarchy of Divine Beings. Was Second Temple Judaism characterized by the same view of God that was prominent in pre-exilic texts of a head God presiding in the council of the sons of God? On the one hand, there are those who maintain that Second Temple Judaism is characterized by the same view of God(s) that prevailed in the pre-exilic Israel and that I have argued continued even in Second Isaiah and the exile. Notwithstanding language that poetically exaggerates the difference between the gods and Yahweh by asserting that they are nothing and that Yahweh will not even recognize their existence, the notion of the council of Yahweh continued throughout this period. The point at which we leave Israelite monarchical monotheism is thus the very place where we can start to elucidate the beliefs of Second Temple Jews. Larry Hurtado summarizes the evidence regarding Second Temple “Jewish monotheism” as follows:

I propose that Jewish monotheism can be taken as constituting a distinctive version of the commonly-attested belief structure described by Nilsson as involving a “high god” who presides over other deities. The God of Israel presides over a court of heavenly beings who are likened to him (as is reflected in, e.g., the OT term for them “sons of God”). In pagan versions, too, the high god can be described as father and source of the other divine beings, and as utterly superior to them. In this sense, Jewish (and Christian) monotheism, whatever its distinctives, shows its historical links with the larger religious environment of the ancient world. There are distinctives of the Jewish version, however, both in beliefs and, even more emphatically in religious practice. As Nilsson has shown, in pagan versions often the high god is posited but not really known. Indeed, in some cases (particularly in Greek philosophical traditions), it is emphasized that the high god cannot be known. Accordingly, often one does not expect to relate directly to the high god or address this deity directly in worship or petition. In Greco-Roman Jewish belief, however, the high god is known as the God of Israel, whose ways and nature are revealed in the Scriptures of Israel.

John Collins observed: “By nearly all accounts, at the end of the first century C.E. strict monotheism had long been one of the pillars of Judaism.” However, he quickly corrects this mis-perception: “Jewish monotheism, which gave birth to the Christian movement, was not as clear-cut and simple as is generally believed. Several kinds of quasi-divine figures appear in Jewish texts from the Hellenistic period that seem to call for some qualifications of the idea of monotheism.”2 Peter Hayman reached a similar conclusion: “It is hardly ever appropriate to use the term monotheism to describe the Jewish idea of God. From the book of Daniel on, nearly every variety of Judaism maintained the pattern of the supreme God plus his vice­regent/vizier…. Needless to say, this situation left many Jews confused, especially about the identity of the number two in the hierarchy.” A similar view, which I propose to defend here, is elucidated by Adela Yarbro Collins. Collins maintains that there may have been some who in fact had a “strict” view of monotheism in Second Temple Judaism, but there was a good deal of diversity in thought. The view that there was only one God who had a fulness of divinity, but that there were also other beings who possessed divinity on a continuum of divinity, with some divine beings have a greater fulness of divinity and others less, was prominent in Second Temple Judaism. Adela Collins stated:

An abstract and strictly monotheistic theology was not, however, shared by all Jewish groups in the first century C.E.. Philo and the Wisdom of Solomon solved the philosophical problem, raised by Greek philosophy, of how a transcendent god could create and interact with the material world by positing an intermediary being, Wisdom or the Logos, whom Philo could describe as “a second god.” The Community of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a Palestinian Jewish ultra-observant group which favored the Hebrew language, could speak of a plurality of ‘gods’ (V X – ’elim). Not only that, but the biblical divine name ‘Elohim’, which is equivalent to the generic Hebrew word for ‘god’ (‘th – El), is attributed to an angel in the fragmentary Melchizedek scroll. The evidence implies that the strict monotheism of the Deuteronomic literature had already been ‘stretched’ or even ignored in much of the literature of Second Temple Judaism. Many Jews of that period evidently did not conceive of God as absolutely unique in a metaphysical sense. Instead, they seem to have placed the deity at the top of a pyramid, so to speak, of divine beings who were the agents of God in creating, sustaining and interacting with all things.
Here is an excerpt his chapter on the New Testament, in which he demonstrates that the relationship between the Father and the Son were seen as a continuation of the “Monarchic Monotheistic” approach:

The Relation of Father and the Son:Christological Monarchic Monotheism in the New Testament
The titles and roles attributed to Christ are given content and function within the culture of honor and shame. Although Christ is divine he is not identical to the one God, the Father. He is given a status of honor by God as the sole mediator through whom all must approach God as patron and king because he completed his mission of redemption that had been assigned to him by the Father. Jesus Christ is thus honored with the highest honor that God as patron and king of the universe can bestow upon him – status at his own right hand as God’s Son and heir to all that God has and is, including receiving the Name that is above all other names. He is recognized as God’s chief agent whose will is one with God’s will and Christ’s acts are honored as the acts of God Himself. God shares his glory and honor with Christ so that Christ is the sole means of salvation as the mediator/broker of relationship with God. Because Christ is the heir to the throne, God actually honors Christ by sharing the kingship and rule of the universe with Christ. Because Christ is the mediator/broker of the covenant relationship that Israel had been elected to in prior times, the only way to approach God is through Christ. Thus, early Christians honored the Father by honoring Christ. Such honor is shown by worshiping the Father through adoration of Christ, and praying to the Father and performing saving rituals such as baptism in the name of Christ. Because Christ is the only mediator/broker of the covenant relationship with the Father, it is necessary to recognize Christ as “the Lord” acclaimed by the one God.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of Christian scriptural interpretation of the relation of the Father to the Son is the practice of identifying Old Testament scriptures that refer to two divine beings – and even two distinct heavenly figures who are both referred to as “God” in Hebrews and the gospel of John. It is a practice that is present throughout the New Testament and became prominent even in later Christian scriptural arguments as demonstrated by Justin Martyr.

16.1 Acts 2:30-36: Christ as Lord at God’s Right Hand. The imagery and language of monarchy and enthronement were the focus of the earliest Christian declarations of Christ’s relation to the one God. We see this intense belief in the exaltation and enthronement of Jesus in the Christian reliance on the declaration of Psalm 110:1-2 that Christ had been exalted and honored to sit enthroned at the right hand of God as “Lord”:

30.But since [King David] was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn an oath to him, that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne;
31. He foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld, nor did his flesh see corruption.
32. God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.
33. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you [both] see and hear.
34. For David did not go up into heaven: but he himself said:
Ps. 110 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35. until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
36. Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus Christ whom you crucified.. (Acts. 2:30-36 NAB)

In this remarkable passage we have an echo of the belief of the earliest Christians stated and summarized publicly for the first time after the resurrection. Jesus is the Messiah as the descendant of David. God the Father has vindicated Jesus’s claim to be king through the resurrection which culminated in the Father’s exalting him and placing him on a throne at His own right hand. It is of the utmost importance to note that in exalting Christ as his co-regent and newly coronated king of Israel, the Father has also given Jesus Christ an honorific title that alluded to God’s own name – the name “Lord.” Whenever the word YHWH appeared in the Old Testament Hebrew texts, the text was read aloud by substituting “Adonai,” the Hebrew honorific title meaning “Lord.” The Greek translation known as the Septuagint or LXX translated both YHWH and Adonai as Kyrios (Aramaic Merah), meaning “Lord.” For those in the audience listening to this claim, they could only have understood that Jesus was coronated at his resurrection with the greatest honor that can be bestowed on a person – the honor of being made an heir and given the name of the benefactor and king. “Lord” functions in the dual capacity having connotations both as a title of honor and also as sharing the divine name because Christ has been declared to be God’s heir and son. In the context of the covenant with David, those present heard a claim that Jesus is the heir to the throne of David and can be called “Lord” because of this inheritance. However, they also would have heard more – Christ shares the divine glory because he shares the divine name behind the title “Lord,” Adonai (Aramaic merah). Christ is recognized as a king and “Lord” second only to God because he is enthroned on his right hand – the place of the co-regent or vizier to the king.1 To be placed at the right hand of the patron king was the highest honor that could be bestowed upon a member of the kingdom. However, Christ is not merely the vizier or co-regent; he is the heir to the throne and recipient of the divine name “Lord” – the one who now reigns with God. The Father is not abdicating the throne of heaven to his son as a successor heir; rather, he is sharing the co-rule of heavens and earth with Jesus Christ.

This allusion to Psalm 110 is all the more remarkable because its use appears to be utterly unique in the literature of Second Temple Judaism. However, Psalm 110 is the Old Testament text most often cited throughout the New Testament and which was used by virtually all early Christian writers in the first 100 years to explain the status of Jesus and his relation to the Father.3 The interest that Psalm 110 held for the earliest disciples of Christ was that it declared Christ at once to be an heir to the throne of David and also raises him to the right hand of the throne of God. However, it also served the Christian message because it referred to two “Lords” whereby the Lord God honored another as “Lord” by bestowing on Christ the very honorific title by which God referred to himself. The notion suggested by Bauckham that allusions to Psalm 110 envision Christ on the very throne of God misrepresents Christ’s status. Christ is not seated on the throne of God; rather, Christ is divine vizier exalted by God to sit at his right hand.4 Bauckham misses the fact that Psalm 110 was used by Christians precisely because Yahweh, “the Lord,” exalts another as “my Lord.” It is the very fact that two distinct figures are referred to that made it amenable to Christian exegesis.

_uacct = “UA-2396761-1”;


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